The heyday of handmade polyethylene Glitter Plaques for holiday decorations has long passed.
The Santas, Easter bunnies and various other characters that appear to be made of plastic ``popcorn'' will soon fade from drugstores and mom-and-pop enterprises that still sell them. Kage Co. Inc., the Manchester, Conn., company that fabricated the items for 50 years, will no longer make them. The final three employees in that department were let go last month.
``We've shut down production - but we have enough on hand for about three to four months,'' said President William Hayes, in a March 19 telephone interview.
Hayes said Kage will continue to operate. The company also makes polyethylene envelopes - plastic jackets that are used to hold bank passbooks, policies and important documents - but the Glitter Plaques will not be made again, he said.
The Gerstein family founded Kage back in the 1930s to make canvas clothespin bags and wooden doll-house furniture. However, electric dryers killed the clothespin business, and Japanese-made plastic items changed the doll-house market.
Kage turned to making PE envelopes in 1945, and that led to its other line. Hayes said the late owner, Kibbe Gerstein, discovered the PE decorations by chance.
``One day, a PE salesman left a box of colored chips with Kibbe to pick out what he wanted for the envelopes.
``He brought it home and the next day his daughter was home sick and saw the pellets. She took the pellets and made a little chicken. It was really cute,'' Hayes said.
Gerstein put the chicken on a cookie sheet and baked it - and what he cooked turned out to be the firm's newest product line.
Hayes said Gerstein took the sample to New York to show it to buyers from dime-store chain W.T. Grant Co., and he walked out with an order for 25,000.
Gerstein then designed the molds, with inserts to separate colors, and a vibrator to shake it all down and into place. After placing the mold in an oven for about 10 minutes, the plastic fused together and came out looking like popcorn, Hayes said. The company developed nearly 200 different designs, such as Santa, shamrocks and Easter bunnies, and sold them to the leading stores at the time, according to Hayes.
Later, groups like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts sold them in their fundraising efforts.
``Everyone was buying them out of catalogs. We couldn't keep up. We had 300 people on the payroll,'' he said.
He estimates the company made about 20 million plaques in its 50-year history. During that time, about 18,000 mothers and students worked there.
A year ago, however, Hayes said he trimmed seven people from the department, bringing it down to a skeleton crew.
``It's been gradual - you could see the writing on the wall.''
The Gersteins still own the firm. Hayes and one other employee will continue the jacket, envelope and bag-making operation, which specializes in odd sizes and can produce small or large lots.
The PE envelope, he said, continues to be a viable product and at age 61, Hayes expects to continue producing them at least 10-15 more years.